BANGKOK — The secretary-general of Thailand's Election Commission has defended the group's ten-day trip to Scotland, calling it an opportunity for officials to learn how to "improve the election procedure" in Thailand.
EC officials traveled to Scotland from 10 to 21 September to "observe" the independence referendum, in which Scottish residents voted on whether Scotland should remain a part of the United Kingdom. The voting was carried out peacefully in a single day.
Critics of the ten-day trip called it a waste of taxpayer money, as democracy has been suspended in Thailand and the country's interim constitution does not permit separatism or a referendum on secessions. In addition, many observers found the EC's apparent gusto for elections puzzling given the group's notorious reluctance to organise elections in Thailand earlier this year.
But Puchong Nutrawong, sec-gen of the EC, said today that the trip was an important educational experience.
"Officials went on the trip to record all the information [they saw]," Mr. Puchong told reporters. "They did not go for sightseeing. They were there to perform their duties per their assignment."
Asked whether he thought the Scottish referendum was truly relevant to the political situation Thailand, Mr. Puchong said, "Elections are an important principle of democracy. I believe [what we learned on] this educational trip will be very applicable to Thailand."
Earlier this year, EC officials in many voting districts closed down their posts during the 2 February snap poll called by former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, citing pressure from anti-government protesters who sought to obstruct the election.
The Constitutional Court ultimately nullified the election because voting did not take place everywhere in the country on the same day.
The EC then repeatedly resisted the government's attempts to organise a fresh poll, claiming that it was not possible because of the anti-government protesters who vowed to block any election held before unspecified national reforms were implemented.
In April, the EC allowed anti-government protesters to enter the hall where election talks were being held and hang banners bearing anti-election slogans.
The second attempt at a snap poll, which was initially scheduled to take place on 20 July, never happened as the military seized power and dissolved the government on 22 May.
Thailand's military rulers now say elections will be not be held until October 2015, and only if "national reconciliation" has been achieved and the political climate is deemed stable.
Meanwhile, photos of Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn visiting museums in Scotland have been widely circulated on social media, with critics of the EC calling the photos proof that Mr. Somchai was wasting the state budget on personal leisure.
When a reporter asked Mr. Puchong whether the trip to Scotland was approved by the junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the sec-gen said the trip was authorised under the budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which was approved before the 22 May coup.
"There will be no foreign trip for the EC in the 2015 fiscal year budget," Mr. Puchong said.